ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As the 2017 season approaches, the Michigan football team has plenty of holes to fill.
The Wolverines are ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll, but lost 18 starters from their 2016 team. This year offers a chance for younger players not just to shine, but to make key contributions.
Michigan opens the season against Florida Sept 2. at 3:30 p.m. ET in Arlington, Texas.
Here are Land of 10’s top three candidates to become Michigan’s unsung hero in 2017.
Mason Cole, OL
Mason Cole is Michigan’s most versatile lineman, and the senior will be leader of the position group. Cole chose to forgo the NFL and return to Michigan for his final year of eligibility. Many expect Cole to move back to tackle after playing last year at center, which opens a spot for either fifth-year senior Patrick Kugler or freshman Cesar Ruiz. If either gets injured, Michigan’s coaches immediately can turn to Cole to take over the spot, as he’s already well ahead of the learning curve required for the position.
Chase Winovich, DE
Chase Winovich joined the Wolverines in 2013 as a linebacker, then moved to tight end in the spring of 2015. Last season, he finally found his fit at defensive end, and in a move that exercised the position group’s depth and skill, came off the bench to record 35 tackles, 5 sacks, 4 quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
Winovich, a senior, is expected to start at defensive end and will be one of the most experienced players at the position. He’ll also be counted on to help Michigan’s younger defensive ends, including Donovan Jeter and Kwity Paye.
Tyree Kinnel, S
Tyree Kinnel earned reps as a sophomore by playing primarily on special teams, including a notable game against Central Florida in which he blocked a pair of punts. Kinnel also had 17 tackles. Now, he’s expected to be one of Michigan’s starters at safety. As a junior, he’s also expected to set the tempo for Michigan’s younger players in the secondary. He has to embrace the opportunity to become a leader on a defense that lost all but one starter, and to lead a secondary that has to replace four NFL-caliber starters.
Coming Friday: Three candidates to become Michigan’s most improved player in 2017.
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